Go Beyond Casting to Build Diversity into Brand Creative

August 19, 2021

A non-binary pizza delivery person shows up in a non-stereotypical role, exercising their power to bestow extra ranch and freebies to Jake in this State Farm Spot.

By Jordan Jackson, Director, Impact Strategy

Diversity is the hottest word in marketing since “real-time.” But diversity isn’t a trend. It’s a value that must be woven into the fabric of agencies and brands, and therefore the advertising they produce.

Raising the stakes, our audiences have become more savvy, more aware, and more critical.

They see through the veneer of just casting a Black/African American person or showing an LGBTQ+ couple for the sake of representation. What makes diversity truly impactful is how well you succeed in making the audience feel they are Represented in your work and what you stand for, and that you are Relatable to their situations and environments.

“How do you track that?” you may ask. At TMA, we have taken an objective and automated approach to building that understanding through extensive creative pre-testing through every part of the creative development process.

How We Do It

We pull a representative sample of our target audience, then slightly over-index on our minority audience segments (ethnographic, sexual identity, etc.) to make sure their voices are rightfully represented. Once our panelist group is identified and we obtain a large enough sample size to get quantifiable, statistically significant results, we show them our creative. The creative can be anything from a big idea, a script, rough cuts, to something that’s currently live and in-market.

From there we survey the group based on our three KPIs, in the form of questions that help us understand and reveal how the audience group feels the creative is Likeable, Representative, and/or Relatable.

A couple of key factors play into these KPIs:

1) In the creative, are we showing someone that identifies within these minority communities in a Position of Power? (Example: leading the meeting, or driving the car, or placing their order.)

2) In the creative, are we showing someone in those communities in a Primary Role? (Example: Leading the scene, the most focused on character in the ad, or driving the action.) 

3) In the creative, are we showing someone in those communities in a Non-Stereotypical Role? (Example: Having the dad prepare dinner and get the kids ready, showing a 70-year-old woman winning a race, or featuring a child in a wheelchair leading their group of friends on the playground.)

From the above, we developed the KPIs that most frequently drove high scores and could then be a standard part of our survey. This is how we established the importance of Representation & Relatability. Not only does this hold our teams accountable for producing creative with DE&I at the forefront – but it also forces us all to remove our “marketing hats” and truly understand our audience from a human-first perspective and how they interpret the work. This also removes the subjectivity that we all fall prey to and creates an objective outcome for us to learn from and optimize towards making the creative better.

Let Data Shape the Narrative

If you’re thinking that all sounds well and good, but want results – here you go. Advertising that reflects the key KPIs as discussed above, has been proven to drive ROI and key brand metrics. A study that was done by Deloitte Digital’s Heat in 2019 proved the ads of brands that scored well featuring diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I) in a Position of Power, a Primary Role, and/or a Non-Stereotypical Role, saw a 69% higher stock growth. At TMA, in the past year, we have correlated high scores at an individual creative-level with its ability to drive Brand Memorability. We are now at a point where we can identify in the creative pre-testing phase, how the work will likely perform once it’s in market and optimize or edit where we need to, accordingly.

As the measurement and analytics lead on one of our largest accounts in the agency, I believe the future of DE&I in advertising is truly exciting. TMA is not the only agency looking for ways to hold ourselves accountable for DE&I, and we believe all advertising agencies and brands can hold themselves more accountable at the start of creative and idea development – not just at the moment of casting.

This type of analysis, in partnership with hiring practices, can help lead to more diversified teams and thinking, which is the future of how we create effective and impactful advertising. We aim to change the world – partly through the ways we understand and represent the people in it.

Jordan Jackson is a director of impact strategy based in TMA’s Chicago hub.

Source: Deloitte Digital – The Heat Test, Q3 2018-Q4 2019